Updated: Jul 16
”He’s not good enough, he needs to work on his 1st touch”
I’ve heard these words, or similar, on many occasions, when a professional coach is speaking about a young player. This is usually after or when a player is trialling in training or a game. It may not be the only reason you're not selected but it is a very common reason. If taken in the right way, it’s a good lesson to take on board. It doesn’t mean you’re rubbish or a bad player, it means that to play at the level that Coach wants, you need to improve.
The Coach perspective
Think about it. They have a job to do. They need to select the best player for the position in the team/squad that they can get. They will have their own views on what that player should play like: skilful on the ball, fast, balanced, tenacious, athletic, tall etc.
What is consistent in their thinking is the players ability to be very comfortable with their 1st touch on the ball when receiving a pass. Why? It simply means they’ll have a better, cohesive team, a team that can keep and manoeuvre the ball well.
So what do we mean by 1st touch?
It’s more than just the actual control of the ball; It’s the preparation of the body position, the thought ahead of the ball arriving, what part of the body/foot you use for control, and importantly, where with the touch you move the ball to.
The higher in standard you move up in the game: the faster the ball comes into you, the faster defenders approach you and pounce on your control. One of the challenges in trialling above your normal standard, is the fact that you don’t know the level of the players you are going to be playing with. For example, lets say you play in Division 2 of your youth league and are the best player in your team. You go for a trial with the top team in Division 1; confident in your ability. Bam! Every time you receive the ball, it feels like you are tackled, smacked, bashed. You walk of the pitch demoralised, like “what was that, that wasn’t fun at all”.
This example is common and natural. The fact is, that the higher the standard, the faster and more competitive it is. The good news is that by playing at that level regularly, you grow accustomed to the speed, you’re brain adjusts, you learn to adapt.
How I adapted
As a young player aged 10-13, I played in the lower divisions of Dublin, Ireland, with my local community team. It was fun; I played with my mates from the local streets and school. I was selected player of the year for multiple seasons and caught the attention of the bigger clubs. Following trials for the county, where I felt that ‘out of my depth’ feeling, I quickly learned to simply work as hard as i could and think and react faster. The next season the top team in the country, asked me to play for them and I stepped up, playing in the top league. I was then selected to play for Ireland at Under 15 level. We played against strong/fast teams that were above our normal county level. It was another lesson in speed and having to play faster.
I was then asked by Chelsea and Luton Town to go to England and play. I selected Luton Town and again had to step up and learn fast to play at a frantic speed in a U17 and U18 league as a 15 year old.
The next step was into the reserve team, playing against men as a 16/17 year old. Another learning curve.
Eventually the 1st team called and in my case, I didn’t experience an increase in speed from the reserves, just an increase in quality. You kept the ball better as a team, the passing was crisper, accurate and so was the opposition.
So how do I improve my 1st touch?
Practice at speed, receiving the ball and moving it to space. One of the best practices is against a wall or having a partner pass into you. You need to imagine you are playing at full pace, moving away from the ball and quickly darting towards it. Controlling the ball away from an imaginary defender, who could be on your left, right, in front or behind.
Repetition is vital. The more you practice controlling the ball a certain way, the more natural you become at it. There is a saying that you must do something 10000 times to master it. Tennis players are a great example of simply striking balls over and over again to master a stroke. Football is no different. Find a wall, it’s great practice.
Play against older, faster, better players consistently. You will improve out of site. You have to work at it, put the effort in and want to improve. It doesn’t just happen. It will be hard at first but the rewards will be there.
Think fast and early in games. Always be thinking moves ahead. The best players move to where the ball is going to be, they position their bodies in a way that gives them more time on the ball, they use their 1st touch to move the ball away from the defender.
Study your favourite players 1st touch, how they position, what part of the foot/body they use, where they move the ball to.
Work that 1st touch guys. Be the best in your team, league. Master it. The confidence you will gain is magic!
The use of video with a Coach review is fantastic in honing skill and performance.
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Be The One!